Childcare program riddled with ineligible participants

The state-funded child-care program is riddled with as many as 4,000 ineligible participants and has been rife with overpayments, according to an audit released today by the state comptroller.

The program, designed to aid low-income families in paying for child care is funded jointly by the state and federal government and is administered by the state Division of Family Development.

The audit found the program overpaid child-care centers for one of every six participants sampled.  The overpayments could amount to millions of dollars, according to Comptroller Matthew Boxer.

The audit found also that 15 percent of participants sampled were ineligible to receive the benefits based on their income. One family receiving state funds through the program reported an annual income of $18,200 on their application while reporting an income of $94,075 on their tax return.

According to the audit as many as 4,000 children may be ineligible for the program based on that finding, while 8,000 children remain on a waiting list for benefits.

“Basic steps are not being taken that would protect the integrity of the state’s child care assistance program,” Boxer said. “Ineligible recipients of state assistance could be weeded out simply by requiring applicants to produce their income tax return, or by taking ten minutes to review a report that the state pays a private vendor to generate. Instead, struggling families that the program was designed to help are kept on a waiting list while those who lie on their application receive state assistance for which they do not qualify.”

To be eligible for the child care assistance program, parents must work full-time or attend school full-time and earn no more than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Index. For a family of three that would mean they could earn no more than $37,060 a year.

Other audit findings include:

–          More than 45 percent of families sampled reported less income on their program application than on their tax return.

–          For 10 percent of the benefit paid to child care providers, the center was not able to produce documentation proving the child was in attendance.

–          At one of the child care agencies the audit reviewed, state payments in the amount of $66,957 were made for a total of 214 children who were absent the entire month for which the payments were made.

–          Program caseworkers at the referral agencies entered the Social Security number “999-99-9999” into the DFD database for 71 children in the program.

–          Ten percent of the files reviewed contained no documentation of family income at all, yet, contrary to program requirements, the applicants were still deemed eligible for the program.

Gov. Chris Christie did not comment on the findings during a press conference Wednesday, saying he hadn’t yet read the audit.

In response to the audit, the Division of Family Development told the comptroller the agency is in the process of strengthening its monitoring program for beneficiaries.

Childcare program riddled with ineligible participants